In 1740, Ben Franklin recommended school libraries as essential elements in learning academies. In 1744, the Penn Charter School in Philadelphia designated the first known school library space within its school. In 1876, nineteen states had legislation passed allowing for the development of school libraries; 826 school libraries were reported during this year. In 1900, Mary Kingsbury, the first trained school librarian, began working at Erasmus High School in Brooklyn, NY. In 1913, 10,000 school libraries were reported to the U.S. Dept of Education. And, today, 98,460 school libraries are reported in the U.S., 81,200 being public school libraries.
Students in schools with high-quality school library programs show higher test scores, graduation rates, and mastery of academic standards regardless of school and community socioeconomic factors. The modern day school librarians are trained in a variety of roles. Teacher: Most school librarians (all three in our district) have teaching certification and have prior classroom experience. The library offers a non-traditional setting with the librarian in place to offer formal and informal instruction in whole group, small group, and one-on-one settings. Librarians are trained to be “information specialists,” and share their knowledge by teaching and assisting students on research projects, and on how to navigate information resources, both print and digital. Collaborator: Librarians collaborate with classroom teachers to support and co-teach lessons. Librarians support classroom teachers by offering instruction on digital tools, makerspace opportunities, and other curricular topics at the teacher’s request. Libraries are also spaces that provide opportunities and resources allowing students to share their work. Curator: Librarians are trained to determine student and faculty needs and gather resources, supplies, and other materials that support the school’s curriculum and learning objectives, and meet the demands of both students and teachers. Further, librarians organize these resources and materials so they are easily searchable and equitably accessible. Support Staff: School librarians are trained to provide professional development based on needs and interests of the staff. The PD opportunities can be informal occasions with one or two teachers who express interest in seeking new knowledge, or during more formal staff PD occasions such as grade level meetings, pre-service workshops, or other in-house training sessions. Many school librarians are also active in presenting at workshops and professional development events at regional or state conferences. Reflective Practitioners: In order for librarians to be proficient in meeting the resource and professional development needs, they have to stay current in their education and constantly assess and update programming efforts, collections, and resources. This is especially true as library programs have evolved to include digital resources and technologies. Successful librarians must be life-long learners. Advocate: Instead of waiting for other stakeholders to realize what libraries have to offer, librarians must engage in marketing efforts and offer students and staff programming and resources they need…often times before they even realize they need them. Librarians have a unique role in that they come in weekly (or close to it) contact with every student in the building for multiple years in a row. This allows them to build meaningful relationships with the students as they grow. Likewise, instead of working with one grade level’s worth of teachers, librarians work with all staff members. For these reasons, it is wise and practical to have librarians sit on building and district level committees. Book Wizard: Modern day school librarians are active in many roles in their respective buildings and in the district, but promoting reading for pleasure is still very much a priority. Librarians promote reading by keeping collections current, by reading the books themselves so as to help students and staff find the book they want or need, by creating eye-catching and appealing displays, and offering a variety of incentive programs.
Today’s school librarians no longer “shush,” and it is becoming a thing of shame to have a silent library. Libraries today are vibrant, with diverse programming and collections to meet a variety of needs. Discussion, collaboration, and exploration are typical in school libraries. In addition, school libraries are reimagining their spaces to create a learning commons atmosphere. Instead of study carrels or long tables, libraries have spaces for group work and comfortable seating for “hanging out.” Although books are still heavily circulated, libraries also offer gaming, augmented and virtual reality devices, and audio and video recording resources.
We are fortunate to have three outstanding librarians employed at St. James R-I Schools. Hope Hunter at Lucy Wortham James Elementary, Erin McCurdy at St. James Middle School, and Michelle Auxier at John F. Hodge High School. I am proud to say that all three librarians at St. James R-I School District are certified and have Masters degrees in Library and Information Science. All three librarians are veteran educators and have a classroom teaching background. And, all three librarians have been active at the regional and state level. Erin and Hope have both served two-year terms as the Missouri Association of School Librarians (MASL) South Central region president. Michele has served on the Gateway Readers Award Committee (The state reading award category for students in grades 9-12). Erin has served on the Truman Readers Award Committee (The state reading award category for students in grades 6-9). Hope has served on the Mark Twain Readers Award Committee (The state reading award category for students in grades 4-6), the Show Me Readers Award Committee (The state reading award category for students in grades 1-3), and the Missouri Association of School Librarians Advocacy Committee. Hope has also worked with DESE to create a program for recognizing exemplary school libraries as required by SB 743. Michele is an Apple Certified Macintosh Technician. All three are active in presenting at Tiger Academy, the district’s in-house professional development event, and at regional and state level conferences and workshops. And, all three have served on building leadership teams and committees.
School libraries have changed so much throughout the years and we have done a great job at St. James R-I Schools staying on top of the latest learning strategies employed by the most successful districts. We have also done a great job providing educational opportunities for our librarians so they can learn and bring back exceptional learning strategies for our students. If you haven’t visited a school library in 20+ years, please come by and visit one of our schools to see how our library programs are stretching all expectations!